The doe outside the children’s hospital in Hershey was spry and petite, no taller than my waist, with ink-streaked ears and tail. Only the fringes of her wide, triangular tail were white—a healthier, fluffier hue than her ashy calves.
As I pulled the SUV to the curb, she bounded past my right flank, springing over the low shrubs and rust-colored gravel that lined the sidewalk. She threw herself against the hospital window, hooves slipping on the glass. She bounced back with ease and wasted no time in leaping once more against the tinted pane. Panic was all I could imagine; she must be panicked, and I was panicked for her. As she approached the automatic doors, I envisioned the fright she would cause, prancing and kicking in the presence of patients with oxygen tanks and intravenous stands. I wondered what had brought her here and where she thought she was going.
“They’re always standing right there,” my mom had said that morning, pointing as she drove, up onto a hillside thick with brown tree husks where the grass was buried under russet leaves. It definitely looked like the type of place deer would congregate, on the edge of an open hill, near a duck pond and a jogging path and some stone-hewn estate. “Every morning, I see them there, tons of them. Like, more than a dozen. And they just sit there and stare.”
I nodded quietly, tapping on little anime caricatures on my phone. She was indulging in the small wonders of the world, telling me all about the deer she saw on her daily commute. She wouldn’t shut up about them. It figured that she would see them every single day, and now that I was along for the ride, poof! They were nowhere in sight. She kept repeating that there were so many of them and that they would stand right there next to the road, telling me over and over as if they had been unicorns and I would never believe her. But of course I believed her. We lived in suburban Pennsylvania; deer were nothing new.
I never cared much for hunting animals, but I wasn’t entirely against it. As a kid, I had gone hunting with my dad once, in Texas. I played my GameBoy on mute while we sat waiting in his stand for something to approach the feeder he’d set. Neither one of us took it very seriously; I remember my dad cracking open a Diet Coke and rustling through a bag of chips. I suppose for him it was more a way to spend time with me than anything. At the end of the day, we saw a few bucks but no doe, which were all he could afford to buy tags for. I didn’t get to kill anything that day. I didn’t have to kill anything that day.
I had driven my mom to work that morning so I could take the car to an interview. As I pulled in to pick her up, that’s when I saw the doe, scrambling against the sandy concrete walls of the medical center, shuffling her hooves against the window. She rebounded with grace, hopping in that whimsical way that deer do in movies, but then threw herself once again against the window, which seemed to wobble like an oily bubble.
I took out my phone to get a picture. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Mom will want to see this. She’d been talking about deer all morning—how odd it was that they would stand so near to the road—and now here was the strangest deer I’d ever seen. I snapped a few pictures then recorded a short video of the doe as she threw herself against the next window then pranced a bit further along the wall and tried the next. At last, she bolted past the automatic doors and reared into a corner behind them. She was out of sight now, hidden behind some women who had gotten out of their cars, behind a pillar, behind a row of empty wheelchairs and a stone bench.
I didn’t know what to do. Neither did anyone else. Even the security guards who eventually shooed her away from the building were caught in a state of inaction for several minutes. She was bleeding from her mouth, I heard someone say, though I’ll never know if this was from flinging herself against a concrete building or from some brush she’d had with a car that sent her fleeing toward the hospital. I’ll never know why she was there or what happened to her after. Obviously, I’ve imagined that she scampered off the hospital lawn and into rush hour traffic. It would have been nice to have calmed her—to be the light of reason in the fog of confusion. But all I did was watch and take out my phone. Mom will want to see this.
“It figures,” she said to me on the drive home. “Every day, there’s tons of deer here, but now that you’re with me: none.”
“They’re probably off looking for their friend,” I said half-jokingly.
“Don’t say that,” she replied. “I always think about that when I see a deer dead on the road. It probably has friends and babies that are gonna wonder why it hasn’t come back.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “They probably do.”
Greggory Sullivan is a senior English major and honors student at Penn State Harrisburg.